Thursday, October 26, 2017

bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao

Pretty much every OSR setting is horrible for the people who live in it.

Which obviously isn’t for everyone. I’m told there are people who prefer optimistic settings they can use as a pure escape from the everyday horrors of real life. Some of them look at an RPG setting that features rampant slavery (for example) and see a product that explicitly supports slavery. Whereas I mainly see an opportunity for the PCs to roleplay as freedom fighters.

I’ve been thinking about how to codify the revolutionary story arc. Not as an adventure path or anything scripted like that, but with a set of mechanics that shapes the direction and pace of the campaign based on PC activities and a bit of randomness. Ideally this would work with any setting where the status quo sucks and pretty much any ruleset, just a short, slimmed down set of mechanics designed to completely redirect the flow of whatever campaign you’d want to bolt it onto.

TSR Marvel’s Nightmares of Future Past gets part of the way there with its Search Flow Chart, which keeps track of how well hidden the PCs are from their sentinel oppressors. The secrecy of their hideout (in this case abstracted into more or less powerful jamming devices) is the only factor that comes into play though, and it doesn’t do much to build tension unless the players can actually see it. It kind of works in this high-tech setting, and you could easily replace the sentinel’s scanning devices with divination spells in a high-magic campaign. This doesn’t cover low-magic or modern though. I think it’d be pretty fun to play as members of the French Resistance, or Viet Cong, or any number of Roman-occupied territories, or any of the European colonies from the 15th to 20th centuries. Or fuck it, the US after Trump’s re-election.

For those campaigns, it would make the game more interesting to keep track of more than just the secrecy level of the PC cell (assuming good graphic design that actually allows the referee to do that without thinking any harder obviously).

Popularity is clearly pretty important too. It would go up when the occupiers cause collateral damage and down if the PCs or one of their parallel cells do. When it’s high, secrecy goes up, cause ain’t no one trynna snitch. 

It seems like a pretty safe assumption that the PCs will be making contacts during gameplay, including business owners, officials, and members of other revolutionary cells. Anyone who can substantially help the PCs or hurt the occupying force, really. As the party builds up trust with these NPCs, they become more helpful when called upon. I’ll be referring to the sum of the strength of these contacts as resources. When this score goes up, secrecy goes down, because trusting anyone is fucking dangerous. (i guess this kinda replaces the secret tracking of henchman loyalty, which i’m fine with because it always struck me as awkward anyway)

Right now I’m thinking the best way of handling that is letting the players themselves explicitly decide which NPCs they want to maintain as contacts, so they always have the option to sacrifice a little secrecy in exchange for whatever in-game advantage that NPC can provide (equipment, intel, access to restricted areas, etc).

So it should be pretty difficult for the PCs to accomplish major goals without first seeking out resources, but doing so is dangerous. Stakes automatically increase as the game progresses.

Some of those contacts may also be public figures, but the venn diagram doesn’t completely overlap. Public figures could be scholars, religious leaders, politicians, generals, whatever. They can be opposed to or in favor of the occupation, and wouldn’t necessarily be native to the occupied lands. They would have influence on the revolution’s popularity, and it will be in the PCs’ best interest to keep those friendly to them alive, free, and vocal. 

Public figures are the key NPCs of the campaign, and should be written up and/or randomly generated ahead of time.

The war weariness of civilians in the occupier’s homeland increases as their casualty count gets higher or scandals come to light, and drops dramatically anytime the PCs or a rival cell attacks their homeland or otherwise provides what they see as a justification for the war. Assassinating military public figures on the occupying side should increase war weariness, but targeting civilian public figures may have the opposite effect. If this score maxes out, the occupiers will have no choice but to pull out, like the US in Vietnam. It’s possible that this score shouldn’t exist in ancient historical settings, but it would also be pretty easy to ignore.

I haven’t decided how exactly to handle random events yet, but they should (in no particular order) be general enough that they work in any setting, be affected by the various scores I laid out, motivate the PCs to do something if they aren’t already up to much, and automatically become more intense as the campaign progresses. I think the way I organize them is going to depend on the list I end up with.


  1. I actually wrote a couple of posts on this, given that overthrowing despotic governments and bringing hope back to the people is pretty much what ATWC is about.

    I'm wary of abstracting things like 'secrecy' too much, because these can effectively be completely destroyed or rebuilt through a single player action - confide in the secret police informer, successfully fake your own death, etc - which mucks up most attempts to build actual mechanics onto them.

    My model was to break down the political situation into its component parts, with the role of the PCs being to stitch together enough of them to form a viable revolutionary alliance. Main post here:

    I did something similar in my rewrite of the Pathfinder Adventure Path 'Curse of the Crimson Throne', trying to make the organisation of a revolution the centre of the action, rather than something that just happens to happen:

    1. I see what you're saying. I think the way to avoid that dissonance is to make sure I factor player actions into the mechanic. I'm still playing around with it so I can't boil it down to a simple guideline yet, but the next post after this one gets into a little more detail with some gameplay examples.

      Have you ever read The God That Crawls? It lets you choose between two ways to adjudicate the monster; either actually keep track of where it semi-randomly wanders to every turn and slow the game down, or make what essentially amounts to a random encounter check with lots of noise related modifiers every turn. The second option simulates a sort of slasher movie mood in pretty much the same way the first option would but without as much work (or slowing the game down as much) and is kind of what I'm aiming for with this.